Secularism, Traditionalism, and Individualism image

Secularism, Traditionalism, and Individualism

Here’s a very insightful comment on the shape of American (and, I suspect, British) religion in the twenty-first century, from Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Riffing off the possibility of an Oprah presidency, Douthat argues that there are not just two approaches to faith in the contemporary West, but three:

American culture is divided between three broad approaches to religious questions: one traditional, one spiritual and one secular. The traditional approach takes various forms (Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish) but its instincts are creedal, confessional, dogmatic; it believes in a specific revelation, a specific authority and a specific holy book, and seeks to conform itself to teachings handed down from the religious past. The secular approach is post-religious, scientistic, convinced that the laboratory and the microscope will ultimately account for everything that matters, while hopefully justifying a liberal society’s still-somewhat-Christian moral commitments along the way.

But in between secularism and traditionalism lies the most American approach to matters of faith: a religious individualism that blurs the line between the God out there and the God Within, a gnostic spirituality that constantly promises access to a secret and personalized wisdom, a gospel of health and wealth that insists that the true spiritual adept will find both happiness and money, a do-it-yourself form of faith that encourages syncretism and relativism and the pursuit of “your truth” (to borrow one of Oprah’s Golden Globes phrases) in defiance of the dogmatic and the skeptical alike.

It’s a fascinating piece, with arguably more relevance for our religious life than our political life (which is what the article was ostensibly about). It’s worth a read.

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